A troubling but very real fact is that a large swath of the American public has no idea that such a program exists. The program has been funded by the USDA since 1968 and has fed millions of children. However millions more miss the opportunity due to its lack of exposure. On average less than a quarter of the children who are eligible for free/reduced priced school meals participate in the SFSP. What do the other 75%+ children do? What do they eat? Do they eat at all? These are questions that haunt me and that is why, when the time strikes I talk about the program and why we should ALL spread the word about SFSP.
The Summer Food Service Program fills a very important hunger gap for children when the school year ends. The catch phrase for the program – “Food that’s In – When School Is Out” typifies the program’s purpose – to ensure that children in need of healthy meals in the summer-time receive them. Having balanced and healthy meals every day is considered important for people of all ages and the SFSP recognizes that the summer can be a time of financial stress for families, and sadly, a time of malnutrition and hunger for kids. What is great about SFSP is that it is free to all children 18 and under and does not require any ID or registration to get a meal. You could be from Texas and go to a site in Massachusetts to receive a lunch, no questions asked. The benefits of the SFSP are bountiful. It relieves families of the financial burden of meals during the summer and children get healthy meals, programming, and fun all summer long!
SFSP works like this: School Food Service Programs and Community Organizations apply to be SFSP Sponsors. Sponsors provide administrative support to sites and their responsibilities range from staffing, paper work, tracking reimbursement for the meals, etc. Organizations that have the capability can provide their own meals to sites or hire a vendor. Sponsors and vendors provide administrative support and food to the sites. Sites, like sponsors, need to be non-profits or government agencies. Typically sites are where children receive meals and often times have some sort of programming. A site can be a camp, park, school, food pantry, etc. Sites must be located in a low income census track or within a mile of a public school where 50% of the children receive free/reduced priced meals. The sponsors and sites work together to ensure there are enough meals every day and that there is sufficient promotion so participation is high enough to continue for summers to come.
So that is all the technical stuff, but why does it really matter? For many families, putting food on the table with shrinking pay checks and dwindling unemployment benefits has become more difficult. Children need and deserve healthy, consistent summer meals to ensure that they are sharp and energized for the coming fall. Without these meals kids come back to school mal-nourished and at an academic disadvantage before they even step into the classroom. The Summer Food Service Program provides programming, a safe place to go during the day, and of course food and fun! I cannot think of a better and more essential program to support and promote.
The SFSP is under-exposed and under-utilized. We can all do our part to spread the word. Find out about the Summer Food Service Program in your community, see if you can become a site or sponsor, and most of all, do not let this important program fall into the shadows. Many children need it; they just do not know it yet.
Submitted by an Anonymous Community Coordinator and Administrative Assistant to a Child Nutrition Outreach Program on the East Coast